Marvel Zombie (#1) – W. Maxwell Prince

4 out of 5

Somewhere in my brain I make judgments on comic book writers based on how they handle Steve Gerber-related properties. While Tales of the Zombie is not remembered fondly by your truly, I would consider it an important book in horror history for the way it tries to center around a particularly unlikable character – Mr. Simon Garth, the nasty human, pre-zombified – and also as a sort of proto-Man Thing workout for Steve, trying out a narrative structure in which the lead has no thoughts or actions of their own volition. Regardless, I do tie ‘the zombie’ to Gerber, and so when someone else picks up that baton later on, I look down from my Gerber-read sense of superiority and furl my brow and whatnot.

My brow was furrowing with an equal amount of anxiety to anything else when W. Maxwell Prince became the latest to write Garth, in a one-shot (for now?) Marvel Zombie issue, as I’ve been really enjoying Prince’s work on other titles, far much more consistently than I’ve been able to with any other recent indie all-stars. Generally these guys write a book I dig, then their next project is stinky, and the stink permeates the past and then… I hate them. Prince, meanwhile, has existed for several years and a few series and issues by this point, and there has yet to be a stench. Switching over to a Big Two title – even an off-brand one like this – can be risky, though, especially when you mix in the above-mentioned Gerberness.

But: he passes. And well above any expected standards.

Prince, smartly, takes the admittedly hollow character concept – I am a zombie and can be controlled by a medallion – and makes it his own thing: Simon is sort of a happy-go-lucky fellow in the Marvel Zombie universe – an alterna-verse in which we’re all zombified save a Marvel few – who has sympathies for his mindless, flesh-eating brethren, but also seems to get along with the humans. When the young Donny discovers the Zombie medallion, he and Garth buddy up for the end of the world. Prince’s one-shot focuses on the decisions surrounding that, keeping a sense of mirth via Simon’s simplified few of the world, while not underselling the tragedy of mankind’s dwindling, told in the hero’s desperate battles with zombie hordes. Artist Stefano Raffaele and colorist Rachelle Rosenberg do an amazingly balanced job of capturing all this, with Raffaele’s loose line and smart use of shadows detailing the world’s state of decay, and Rosenberg’s palette bleak but with a hint of brighter-colored hopefulness throughout. The decisions made at book’s end feel a little short-sighted, but it’s also an understandable shorthand for potentially setting up a new series.

Please don’t let Marvel taint Mr. Prince going forward.